Friday, January 31, 2014


歸途列車 (Last Train Home)
November 29, 2009
85 min
Canada (Sichuanese Mandarin)

Directed by Fan Lixin

First informative and then insightful, Last Train Home may be one of the more realistic examinations of the modern divide in China.

Last Train Home
gives a ride-along perspective of the single largest human migration that takes place annually during Chinese New Year. It's a depiction of that transport but offers more by going smaller in scope. I was reminded of the framing of Microcosmos, a French documentary which takes place in a vibrant meadow. It is only when we get up close and personal to the individuals of that clime (all manner of insect life) that we start to understand the whole, hence the name. In the case of Last Train Home the Zhang family is our case study on behalf of some 130 million families. They are under the lens and on display for our consideration.

In something of a modern Chinese fashion the parents only see their children, Qin and Yang, but once a year. They toil away in a garment factory in Gaungzhou while their teenage daughter and young son are cared for by the grandmother in the humble village of Huilong. This rupture has especially taken a toll on Qin who is torn between the lack of her parents’ presence and the temptation of freedom all young adults crave.

Last Train Home both exemplifies and escapes the observational documentary mode. The monologues offered by Qin and her parents are clearly the answers to questions from behind the camera, sometimes you even hear the subjects repeat what they were being asked. I suspect there are more instances of such direction in the beautiful (and surely staged) shots on the train. An explosive scene between Qin and her father is devastating. Before it is over Qin breaks the fourth wall and tells the filmmakers this is the real her. It is distressing and I could not help but feel a little ashamed, and that’s just as a member of the audience. I wonder how filmmaker Lixin Fan felt, let alone the real characters onscreen.

The film concludes where it opened: in the train yard. We zoom out from the Zhang family and see they are but one drop in the sea - I began to wonder where each train would take us.

Curator's Note: Currently streaming on Netflix


CONTENT: brief strong language, adult situations

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